31 years of ‘dedicated leadership’ at SDSU

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Provost, dean, mentor. Friend.

In the last 31 years, Carol Peterson has filled all these roles at SDSU. Since 1987, she has been the chief academic official as provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. From 1977 to 1987, she served as the head of a college as the dean of nursing. Through these roles, she has been a mentor and friend to colleagues and students.

“The easiest way to describe her is a caring and nurturing individual,” said Keith Corbett the interim dean for the College of General Studies. “Here’s this person who has a firm exterior, but on the inside, she’s a person that cares deeply about students, faculty and other administrators.”

Last week, Peterson announced her decision to resign as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, effective June 30, 2009. She will serve in an advisory position throughout the 2009-2010 school year, continuing to lead the Higher Learning Commission re-accreditation process and help with the transition to the next provost. Peterson will officially retire in fall 2010.

“South Dakota State University and South Dakota’s public higher education system have been fortunate to have had the dedicated leadership of Dr. Peterson for more than 30 years,” President David Chicoine wrote in a letter to the university community.

“She has developed programs and systems that remain strong today. She has made a difference in the lives of countless students, and she has been a mentor for faculty members, department heads, directors, deans and even presidents.”

As provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Peterson has been in charge of all academic aspects of the university. All curriculum changes come through her office, she serves as acting president in the absence of Chicoine and her office coordinates academic fundraising and monitors academic quality.

Eric Hanson, Students’ Association vice president, said Peterson works hard to make academic programs stronger “so students all across the Midwest can find their calling at SDSU.

“If any student in the last 21 years has studied a new major or taken a new class, it was brought through the guidance and advice of Provost Peterson,” he said.

“Her leadership and guidance have created a strong academic-based university that will continue to be so long after she is gone.”

Interim Dean of the College of General Studies Corbett agreed. He said Peterson always strives to provide proper funding for academic programs and do her best to improve technology in classrooms.

“She raises the level of academic expectations both for faculty and students,” he said. “She’s one factor that made the D-I move so successful.”

Peterson listed some of her proudest achievements in her career as helping to start the master’s and doctorate programs in nursing, assisting in the successful transition to Division I and influencing the accreditation process. The provost has also worked to expand the international programs at SDSU during her career.

Just as Peterson has achieved many things, she has also witnessed many changes during the last 31 years. She has seen SDSU grow from 7,000 students to almost 12,000 and has seen the college go from a teaching institution to a teaching, research and service university. She has witnessed the expanding of doctorate programs, the dramatic upgrade of facilities and the technology boom.

One of the changes Peterson is most proud of, though, is the way she has transformed how women are treated at SDSU. When Peterson was promoted in 1987, she became the first woman in a permanent central administration position in the South Dakota Board of Regents system.

Roberta Olson, the dean of nursing, said through her position, Peterson “helped to put a few more cracks in the glass ceiling.

“I would suggest we women at SDSU would not have as many in leadership positions across the university if she hadn’t been the trailblazer.”

Breaking into the male-dominated system was not always easy. Peterson said during her first meeting with other vice presidents in the regental system, the five other male vice presidents sat with their backs to her during the entire meeting. It was not until they realized that Peterson was competent that they finally began to look at her.

“The competence you have helps to break that ice, but it took a while, because it was a very male-dominated group,” she said.

Today, two other women are vice presidents within the regental system, probably due in part to Peterson’s leadership and work to help women advance. Over the years, she has worked to promote equality on campus for both women and minorities. She even established the Quest for Equity fund at SDSU to educate, entertain and enlighten women on a wide variety of issues.

“Every presidency here, every successful year, SDSU has become more inclusive,” she said.

Apart from her role as an advocate for women’s rights, Peterson has also enjoyed her role as an administrator. Through her time she has had the opportunity to work with six different SDSU presidents (Hilton M. Briggs, Sherwood O. Berg, Ray Hoops, Robert Wagner, Peggy Gordon Miller and Chicoine) and has helped shape academics at SDSU. Peterson said she will miss the high involvement and influence of her post the most.

“My mark on this world has been through my work in higher education. Obviously, I’m very committed and involved in that, and to be separated from that, that will be some adjustment.

“I’ve loved every minute of it here. Sure, I’ve had lots of work to do, ? but when I think back on my 31 years at South Dakota State University, I’ve had a great, great time.”

Several of Peterson’s colleagues are sad to see Peterson leave, as well.

Katy Heiberger, who has worked in Peterson’s office for about four years, said, “I feel very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to work in the office with her. Her presence will be missed.”

Chicoine agreed. “South Dakota State will hire a successor as provost and vice president, but Dr. Peterson cannot be replaced.”

Peterson received her nursing degree from the Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing in 1960 and her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota. Before coming to SDSU, Peterson was vice president for educational development, evaluation and research for a junior college, which is now part of the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. Since coming to SDSU, she has received several awards for her contributions to the nursing community, women and the state of South Dakota.